Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A New Squirrel at Darlington

As some of my readers may recall, we have a bit of a thing for squirrels here at Darlington.  We are fortunate to have two colonies of them living on our property, one of gray squirrels and one of red.  When they aren't fiercely defending their respective territories from each other, the squirrels gambol and skitter about most entertainingly.

Our new squirrel, sitting on a windowsill
at Darlington House

Given our fondness for the squirrels, and our propensity to accumulate collect things, it is not surprising that we've built up a small collection of squirrel figures that we display on a bookshelf in one of our guest bedrooms.  I featured some of them in a Squirrels of Darlington post that I did last year.

A vintage postcard of Stratford Hall from the 1930s

As I wrote in that post, we are rather discriminating in our collecting of squirrel figures.  Although we are fond of them, we don't want to become people known for their squirrel collection, fearing that we could find ourselves overrun with them.  My worst nightmare is to wake up one day and find myself living among a collection of cute little figurines covering every flat surface in the house, like the bed and breakfast I once stayed in years ago where the proprietors had a thing for mushrooms.  It was awful.

So I am very picky when it comes to adding a new squirrel figure to our collection.  In order even to be considered, it had better be a good one.

The family crest of the Lees of Virginia
(note squirrel at top)

Over Memorial Day weekend we attended an antiques show in Rhinebeck, New York, where we came across the cast iron squirrel shown in the photograph at the top of this essay.  I was drawn to it because of the subject, because it is made out of cast iron (a medium that I like), and because it appeared to have been made in the Colonial Revival style favored in the first half of the twentieth century (a style that I find appealing).  When I looked at the squirrel more closely I was curious to find that it had "Stratford Hall" upon its base, in raised lettering.  The dealer saw me examining it and came over and told me that he had done some research on it and found that the crest of the Lee family, who built Stratford Hall, features a squirrel in it.

I had to own it.

Stratford Hall is one of America's great early plantations and sits on a bluff in Westmoreland County, Virginia, overlooking the Potomac River.  It was built in 1725-1730 by Thomas Lee (1690-1750), the acting Governor of the (then) colony and a member of one of this country's most illustrious families, the Lees of Virginia.  Thomas Lee was an ancestor of General Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), who was born in the house.  Stratford Hall was rescued from near ruin in 1929 when it was purchased by the good ladies of the Robert E. Lee Memorial Foundation, who restored and furnished it in the 1930s in high Colonial Revival style.  I suspect that my cast iron squirrel dates from that period and was sold in the plantation's gift shop as a souvenir.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., I visited many of the area's plantations as a boy, and I have happy memories of doing so.  One of the plantations I visited was Stratford Hall, where long ago someone else visited before me and came away with the squirrel that I now own.

Another vintage postcard of Stratford Hall,
probably from the 1940s

I believe my squirrel was likely intended to be a door stop for a modest-size door (he stands only six inches high).  Or perhaps it is a piece of porchiana, which is a term to describe objects specifically made to be used on screened porches and which is the subject of a future post of mine.  My squirrel would do a fine job of keeping a pile of newspapers and magazines from flying around in a breeze.

I am more than pleased to have this little fellow join our squirrel collection at Darlington House, where he provides an element of much-needed Southern gentility among his far less well-mannered Yankee cousins.

Photograph by Boy Fenwick; vintage postcards courtesy of US GenWeb; Lee family crest courtesy of the Robert E. Lee Association


  1. Hello Reggie:
    There is always the danger, as you point out, to own to having a collection of anything for before one knows it one can be inundated with all manner of things - tea towels being a common choice - donated in the name of adding to what is seen as one's treasures. No, far better to have a number of similar items but which never, to the guest or outsider, form a collection.

    Your latest acquisition is very fine indeed. It would, as you suggest, make an excellent doorstop but your idea of a weight, perhaps for newspapers and magazines, is both practical and purposeful. To have discovered something of its provenance is rather exciting and adds to its interest. And how appropriate that you too were once at Stratford Hall.

  2. Oh, how I am laughing to myself by the thought of Darlington being overrun by squirrels; live ones as well as a million little figures... Yes, that would be awful!! :)

    Northern Light

  3. Dear Reggie...
    Squirrels are collectors too...
    they just hide their finds!

    I'd use this fellow on my front porch if he were mine.
    Perhaps he might deter the neighbourhood squirrels by standing up and marking his territory.

  4. Hello Reggie,

    the fact that you know where this pretty squirrel comes is so special.

    Have a nice day

  5. You mean you don't want one of these?


    Or these?


    Or these?


    Or these?


    My Gawd, I think I stepped into your nightmare there for a minute.

  6. Lovely squirrel and yes, I know what you mean about "collecting" -- we had a few monkeys at Linderhof -- they were a bit of whimsey but then we started GETTING them as gifts and those monkeys -- let's say that except for one bathroom, there are NO more monkeys!!!!

    Your squirrel looks like a treasure . . .made even more so by the "Stratford Hall"!

  7. Stratford Hall is a very atmospheric house. I remember once years ago visiting during a total eclipse of the sun. As the sky got darker and darker the guide produced a flashlight and continued the tour. Somehow the very dim light and the uncanny stillness contributed to a feeling that we had magically been transported back into the 18th century - a feeling that quickly vanished as the eclipse ended and daylight returned.

    I do think squirrels can be cute, but as they continually ravage my garden - eating tulip bulbs and uprooting my Impatiens - I cannot say I much like them.

  8. Dear Reggie, what a lovely addition to Darlington. I hope all's well with you, Boy and Pompey xx

  9. Well, you've ruined my surprise! I was going to send you what remains of my collection of 600 miniature squirrels (mostly hobnail glassware) but now I guess I won't.

  10. Reggie,
    So you are the squirrely type! We have plenty in our backyard, although I couldn't tell you the type, only that they are the type that drive our dog nuts! What about Pompey?

    We live very close to the Potomac River but on the northern end in a house with no historical significance not to mention far less grand than Stratford Hall. The mere mention of the word hall reminds me of Bill Bryson's book "At Home". Have you read it already? If not, I am confident you would love it.

    Anyway, congrats on your find!

  11. Yes, you need to stay on guard against being seen as a collector of some particular thing. From childhood I was known as a lover of teddy bears, now at almost 50, I find myself having to tell people, "please no more bears." It really becomes overwhelming. I fortunately found a lovely charity that will take stuffed bears and recirculate them to children in need of a friend - homeless shelters, domestic violence emergency centers, and the like.


  12. Charming! I enjoy reading about your collections. Your saucer collection has really inspired me.

    I currently collect rhinos. Luckily, they are hard enough to come by that I'm not showered with them, but I did have to tell my mother that I had enough of the common sort and would only take really unusual/beautiful rhinos. I also rotate my collection since I live in a itty bitty DC apartment. Come to think of it, it's about time to do a little rotating.


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